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Dr Elizabeth Murchison, recipient of Wellcome Trust Investigator Award, 2014

Dr Elizabeth Murchison, University of Cambridge
Genome diversity and evolution in transmissible cancers in dogs and Tasmanian devils

Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease (DFTD) and canine transmissible venereal tumour (CTVT) are the only known examples of naturally occurring clonally transmissible cancers. They are clonal cell lineages that have survived beyond the deaths of the individual hosts that spawned them by acquiring adaptations for the transfer of living cancer cells between hosts. Dr Murchison will catalogue genetic and phenotypic diversity in hundreds of DFTD and CTVT tumours found in geographically dispersed locations. She will use genetic data to explore how these two infectious diseases first arose and subsequently spread through their host populations, and she will investigate how tumour phenotypic diversity may be influenced by genetic and environmental change. She will analyse patterns of selection operating on the two lineages in order to understand factors that have influenced transmissible cancer evolution. In addition, she will investigate the frequency of horizontal DNA transfer in clonally transmissible cancers.